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5 Things That Can Trigger a Multiple Sclerosis Relapse

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No two people with multiple sclerosis are the same, and no two flare-ups are the same either. I have friends with multiple sclerosis whose symptoms are so different from mine that you’d think we had different conditions, but all MSers ought to be aware of common triggers that can cause a relapse.

Multiple Sclerosis Relapse Trigger #1: Stress

We are all affected by stress, but having a chronic condition like multiple sclerosis means stress can have a more significant impact on us. Not dealing with stress can lead to depression and increased fatigue that can make our symptoms worse.

I went through a period of stress after moving home and country from Scotland to England paired with having to find work it was just a very stressful time. Then, when I got a job I put way too much pressure on myself. Before I knew it, my balance started to go, and my foot drop got worse, and I was forced to rest.

Multiple Sclerosis Relapse Trigger #2: Fatigue

Symptoms always feel worse when I’m fatigued, and this can be physical or cognitive. My walking gets much harder when I feel physical fatigue, and my hands also refuse to work reliably. If I feel cognitive fatigue, my thought processes are sluggish, and I find it hard to concentrate. Sleep and rest are important for everyone, but poor sleep can have an even greater impact on MS.

Multiple Sclerosis Relapse Trigger #3: Infection

Any infection, such as a cold or flu, can cause a flare-up of multiple sclerosis symptoms. MSers need to wash their hands and generally look after themselves more than other people. MSers are prone to urinary infections due to problems with bladder function, so be aware and seek treatment as soon as possible, so your symptoms aren’t made worse.

Multiple Sclerosis Relapse Trigger #4: Heat

Anything that raises body temperature can trigger multiple sclerosis symptoms, so I am at my worst during the summer months. If it’s too hot, nothing works, and I feel like I’ve swollen up from the inside out! Luckily I live in the United Kingdom, so it rarely gets that hot, but I still seek out shade and air conditioning whenever I can! Other kinds of heat have a huge impact, too. For example, I recently figured out that if I lower the temperature of my shower, I’m able to get out and get dressed without having to rest for half an hour. It took me so long to make the link, but apparently, doctors used to use the “hot bath test” as a way of diagnosing MS.

Multiple Sclerosis Relapse Trigger #5: Food

Certain foods trigger my symptoms. Dairy seems to make the pins and needles in my hands worse, and gluten increases feelings of fatigue. Everyone is different though, so food may not make any difference, but cutting out gluten and dairy has certainly helped me.

A lot of symptoms caused by the above are short-lived and recede when we cool down, rest, or treat the cause; however, some relapses need to be treated with steroids, so knowing what causes fluctuations in your symptoms can help you know when you’re having a more serious relapse. Luckily, we can avoid a lot of the common triggers and develop strategies to minimize their effects. I work part-time, for example, and make sure I factor in enough rest and downtime. I delegate tasks and rope in my partner to help when I feel exhausted. It’s important to pace myself and conserve my energy. I also avoid the heat and make sure I wear natural fibers to combat the effects of heat intolerance, and generally keep myself as healthy and well as possible.

As I previously stated, everyone’s MS journey is different, however, if this can help anyone even a little bit, I will be happy.

Getty image by Aleutie.

Originally published: January 11, 2022
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